Despite three fascinating factors heading into the 2018–19 campaign, there’s more at stake than an overachieving season for the developing Knickerbockers.

For the past week or so, our great TKW fans have had plenty of conversations about recent Vegas over-unders for NBA regular season wins this upcoming season. New York is projected for a total of 29.5 wins, which sounds very accurate. To my surprise, many fans are taking the over—some even believe close to 40 wins is plausible.

I’m going to keep it real with you, chief. That should not be the case. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and obvious tanking shouldn’t be expected either, but this has the makings of a team that’s looking to give the fans, the city, and teammates everything they have for 82 games—with the added caveat of a team made up of rather inexperienced roster.

The good news is simple. We have a special rookie in Kevin Knox. The bad news is, as special as he’s going to be, it’ll take more than just solid drafting for the Knicks to compete for the playoffs this year.


The Donovan Mitchell Effect

Who knows? Maybe New York can catch lightning in a bottle with Knox à la Donovan Mitchell last season. It could happen but shouldn’t be expected. Just about everything that could go right would have to go right for the Knicks for Knox to lead them to the playoffs the way Mitchell did. David Fizdale already seems to have as great a rapport as he could imagine this quickly with his young core. A special bond could be built with the rookie, and Fizdale could put Knox in every position to succeed, similar to Brad Stevens and Jayson Tatum.

However, Knox’s situation will be much different than what Donovan Mitchell’s (and even Tatum’s) was and should be put in perspective if you’re expecting the same outcome from Knox. Both Mitchell and Tatum had great supporting casts around them during their playoff runs. Mitchell played alongside the Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. Tatum was a part of the deepest rotation in the league and six minutes away from going to the Finals as a rookie. The Knicks, on the other hand, won’t have this luxury. Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens are also young coaches that have already proven themselves as two of the best already.

Both Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum were great this year. Kevin Knox should be expected to be great, for a rookie—which is the difference. Their playoff runs, combined with Knox’s great run in Vegas from his first dunk, have added to some unfair hype his way. It’s safe to say he made himself a top candidate for Rookie of the Year, if not number one. With Mitchell’s run post-All-Star break still clear in our minds, it’s easy to have that same energy towards Knox and the Knicks.

Immature Roster Makeup

All that said, there are drawbacks that come with this wishful thinking. From the end of last season, nothing has shown that anything other than player development will be the focus of this upcoming season. The “Fiz Kids” are exactly that: kids. With Knox all but penciled in for as many minutes as he can get, there’s going to be a lot of youth on the floor with him more times than not, allowing them to grow from making mistakes. Particularly for Kev, he’s going to have plenty of opportunity to put up some great numbers during his first campaign, especially while KP is out.

By the same token, there are going to be some nights where he looks like a rookie, and that shouldn’t be frowned upon due to false hopes for the team. The roster will be close to unchanged, other than the addition of Hezonja and Kyle O’Quinn leaving, which obviously wasn’t enough to win many games. The team won’t be deep enough to win consistently on nights where Knox may not shoot the ball well. Even on nights he explodes, there may not be enough around him to get the win depending on matchups.

Realistically for this to happen, Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. would have to make strong cases for the All-Star Game, and Frank Ntilikina would have to make a major jump on the offensive end. Any of these things are possible, but all of them? Not likely. It just won’t be enough talent to win many games, especially with the unknown timetable for Kristaps Porzingis to return from injury, if he even plays at all.

David Fizdale’s Learning Curve

While David Fizdale gets nothing but respect and high regards from everybody in the league (except Marc Gasol), this will still be his second full year as a head coach. New York is already proving to be the best fit for him, as he’s been able to make his mark and establish his own identity on a team dying for a culture change.

He’s already talked heavily about how he wants to implement position-less basketball, and Knox will potentially play every position on the floor at some point this season. While wanting a gritty, defensive team that plays tough on both ends, Fizdale already has the reputation of getting the best of his players on the offensive end. Emphasizing pace and space will hugely benefit the rookie’s development.

To reiterate, everything is in place—from the roster being built, to the coach implementing a brand new culture, and a front office making smart decisions—for the Knicks to be a top team in the Eastern Conference. The Vegas projection seems to be pretty accurate considering the Knicks have won 32, 32, and 29 games the past three seasons, and you could make the case that they had a better roster for at least two of those seasons. From a team standpoint, they’ll have young legs to compete every for 82 nights, but pushing for a certain number of wins shouldn’t be anything for the fans to do unless you want dreams to be broken.

As fans, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement bubbling around the Knicks, and there’s plenty of it—especially after witnessing the Kevin Knox show in Vegas. In all honesty, the under should be taken for the Vegas projection, and the hype for this particular season may be a bit unfair. Regardless of how well he plays, look for the Knicks to be getting Kevin Durant to sign in 2019 more ping pong balls next summer than playoff wins.